Nature Menu

Introduction Beginner's Guide Where to find wild flowers Where to find butterflies Books and online tools Week by Week Nature Blog SWC_Nature

Nature and Weather in South East England

This Week Message

For the latest observations, see the Nature Blog or the @SWC_Nature Twitter feed.

June wayside flowers

Other June pages: Meadow and field flowersDownland and seaside flowersHedgerow, trees and berriesBirds Butterflies and insectsWeather

Put your cursor over any photo to see its caption, or click here to see more June wayside flower photos. 

The lovely blooms of May that line country lanes – the stitchworts and garlic mustards – are no more in June, and by mid month the path and lane verges that were a riot of colour earlier in spring have reverted to plain green. But there are still a wonderful variety of flowers to be seen if you keep your eyes peeled - perhaps the most species of any month in the year.

Among the most noticeable June flowers are oxeye daisies, which favour dry grassy banks. By the end of the month they are past their best but they can crop up in places into July. Other verge flowers include red campion, which can survive in places right through the month, and the much less common white campion and bladder campion: there is also a pink campion, which is a hybrid of red and white.

Note also delicate purple spikes of hedge woundwort which can be found throughout the month in shadier places. In the second half it is joined by the pink-flowered black horehound (which is nicer than its name suggests): both have nettle-like leaves. Throughout the month one might see the purple or blue flowers of Russian comfrey, which is vastly more common than the native common comfrey (see Damp places below).

This is also the month of the enormous purple spikes of foxgloves, which go over towards the month’s end, and beautiful hedgerow cranesbill. You may also see the larger, showier meadow cranesbill, which often appears to be a garden escapee in the south east, though it grows wild in Wiltshire and Oxfordshire. In addition you see a lot of French cranesbill, which is a sort of pink version of meadow cranesbill and usually has spread from nearby gardens onto wild verges.

Much smaller cranesbills such as dovesfoot cranesbill, cut-leaved cranesbill and small-flowered cranesbill (with pale lilac flowers) are found on verges too, and more rarely you might see round-leaved cranesbill, shiny cranesbill or even pencilled cranesbill. A much commoner member of this family is herb robert, which tends to have disappeared from the woodland where it thrives earlier in spring, but still survives in places in June on shady road and path edges. Just occasionally on short grass verges on sandy soils you may see common storksbill, which looks a lot like a cranesbill.

Early in the month you may still see May survivors such as white deadnettle, common vetch, bush vetch, ground ivy, bugle, wood spurge and wild strawberry (though the latter are also producing their tiny fruits by now). Wood avens (aka herb bennet) is already past its best early in the month but can last in places until late in the month.

Also occasionally found until late in June, usually near houses, is green alkanet (which is blue-flowered: the green in its name refers to its leaves being around most of the year, ie evergreen). Some tiny-flowered forget-me-nots also survive (usually field forget-me-not, though early forget-me-not is possible). In addition in the first half of the month you may see isolated clumps of greater celandine - nothing to do with the lesser celandine that flowers in early spring, but a relative of the poppy. Later in the month the striking tufted vetch makes attractive clumps in places.

Umbellifers and other plant families

Cow parsley has gone over in late May and in place of its dreamy drifts of white flowers there are only brown seed heads. But you might be fooled into thinking some of it is still out because a range of other similar flowers – from the family known as umbellifers – appear in June. Most similar to cow parsley is rough chervil, which has rough purplish stems (though some start out green) and delicate, separate elements to its flowerheads.

A larger and coarser umbellifer is hogweed, which is ubiquitous by the third week along lane and path verges and which also colonises fields. (I often wonder if its name refers to its aroma, which is slightly unpleasant). You might also see giant hogweed, a rather terrifying version of the flower, introduced in Victorian times from the Caucasus, that is as big as a small tree. If you are not sure you are seeing a giant hogweed, then you are not: it is unmistakably bigger than ordinary hogweed in scale, with flowers up to 30 centimetres across and very different leaves. It is an irritant to the skin and should not be touched.

Even more deadly is hemlock water dropwort, a very poisonous umbellifer that is very commonly seen flowering in ditches and streams in June, fading in the second half: it looks far too attractive for such a harmful plant. The same cannot be said of hemlock, which is tall (not infrequently two metres or more) and untidy-looking, with purple blotches on its woody stems. Also poisonous (it was the drug used to execute Socrates in ancient Greece) it can form modest patches on road and stream banks.

A less lethal umbellifer, but a massive irritant to gardeners, is ground elder, which has elder-like leaves quite different from others in the family and which can be found on path edges all month. A plant with a umbellifer-like flat white flower head, but in fact a member of the fleabane family, is yarrow, which appears in the second half (sometimes more towards the end of the month) and then lasts all summer.

Another confusing family of flowers which can be seen on waysides and field edges in June are the various cabbage and mustard family plants including charlock, the rather feeble looking hedge mustard, and black mustard which is almost identical to hoary mustard.

Yet another group of flowers has dandelion-like flowers, though dandelions themselves have nearly all gone over in May - if you think you see a dandelion on a grassy verge, it is very likely to be a catsear. Taller, straggly plants with dandelion-like flowers that can be found on verges in June include beaked hawksbeard, rough hawksbeard and the unfortunately named nipplewort. The latter can look quite similar to the very common smooth hawksbeard, which has small flowers on a many branched stem: as so often with these plants, the leaves are the clue to their identify. Hawkweeds are also occasionally seen.

A further family with dandelion-like flowers is the sow thistles. Smooth sow thistle is the most common variety in June, a plant that looks like it will be spiny but is in fact not if you touch it. Completely different in appearance is the prickly sow thistle, which looks like a thistle with yellow flowers.

True thistles can also be seen growing throughout the month, the new leaves of creeping thistle looking pale and lettuce-like to begin with. Marsh, slender and musk thistles flower in June, while creeping thistle and spear thistle may be in bloom at the very end of the month. By this time you see the plants of teasel, with their large oval flower heads, though they do not flower yet.

A gardener's despair (it is very hard to eradicate), but a very pretty climbing flower, is bindweed. Its huge white trumpets (large or hedge bindweed), or small pink ones (field bindweed), cover hedgerows, verges or wasteground from around mid month.

Unnoticed plants and bare ground

Unnoticed, cleavers (aka goosegrass: the plant that sticks to your clothes) has miniscule white flowers: towards the end of the month its seeds may be sticking to your socks. Stinging nettles, also now in flower, have reached waist or even neck height, and along with other vegetation can block paths that were perfectly clear earlier in the year. Throughout the month one can see the fly whisk plants of horsetail, an authentic survivor from the age of the dinosaurs. Curled and broad-leaved dock flowers have a rusty look that makes them look as if they are already over. Broomrapes - strange pale organisms that live as parasites on the roots of particular plants - also can sometimes be seen,

On bare ground, such as muddy paths and tracks, greater plantain puts up its flower spikes from mid month. You have to look very carefully indeed to see them in bloom, however, as all that is produced is a slight purple haze that is only evident at very close quarters. Another plant of such habitats that you will probably overlook is common orache. The same is true of knotgrass - a common but little regarded weed which colonises bare ground at this time. Neither is yet in flower, and neither looks at all conspicuous when it is. Much prettier is scarlet pimpernel whose orangey-red flowers may crop up on bare ground at any time in the month. Groundsel, shepherd's purse and pineapple weed can also sometimes occur as urban weeds, as can chickweed early in the month.

On heathland some bell heather and cross-leaved heath can be in flower in the second half of June

Grassland flowers on verges

Early in the month one can still find crosswort – which has greeny-yellow flowers in spikes that look quite attractive en masse - and some germander speedwell on grassy verges: also very occasionally on bare ground field speedwell, which has one whiter petal. Other grassland flowers on verges during June include ribwort plantain, black or spotted medick and cinquefoil, as well as tormentil on heathland.

In mown or grazed grass daisies are still seen. Silverweed can be found in flower at any time of the month, but is easily overlooked as its flowers look very similar at a casual glance to creeping buttercup, which also crops up occasionally on verges till late in the month. (Silverweed has very distinctive silver-backed leaves, from which it gets its name, but the flowers often look a bit detached from them). In the first half some meadow buttercup may also crop up on verges.

In the second half of the month flowers appear on verges that are also found on downland. Examples include agrimony – a small spike delicately splashed with yellow flowers - as well as self-heal, hedge bedstraw, field scabious, knapweed, mignonette, vervain, common spotted orchid and pyramidal orchids. Meadow vetchling and lesser stitchwort - more normally meadow flowers - can also crop up on verges.

Summer stalwarts

June also sees the appearance of wayside flowers that will go on to last the whole summer. One that can be found from quite early in the month is common mallow, which forms clumps of attractive pink flowers on odd bits of wasteground. It has a rarer, more delicate variety called musk mallow.

More of these summer stalwarts appear in the second half of June - that is when, for example, the bright orange common ragwort starts to appear on fields, verges and downland, as well as along railway lines. Poisonous to horses and so persecuted by some landowners, it is nevertheless a very pretty plant and an important food source of insects. (It needs to be distinguished from the much shorter Oxford ragwort - see Along railway lines below).

Sticking with this part of the colour pallet, the pretty yellow flowers of St John’s wort (used to treat depression) appear in the second half of June, along with their large flashy garden relative, rose of sharon. Also towards the end of the month you start to see the striking purple spikes of rosebay willowherb and possibly also the less showy great willowherb, though early July is a more normal time for both species to appear. A smaller member of this family that can be seen from early in the month is broad-leaved willowherb.

Two tall yellow relatives of the pea family - ribbed melilot or golden melilot - can appear on disturbed ground at this time. (Telling ribbed and golden melilot apart is not easy, but ribbed is taller and has shorter lower petals to its flower, whereas on golden they are equal.) There is a white version of this plant - white melilot.

At the very end of the month you may also see other July flowers starting on wasteground and verges, including hemp agrimony, mugwort, common toadflax and Canadian goldenrod.

Along railway lines

The sides of railway lines can be alive with flowers in June. In particular this is a favourite place for oxeye daisy. In the same place, and on former industrial land, you can find evening primrose in huge yellow spikes.

The Oxford ragwort that appeared along trackbeds in early May is generally over by early June, though can hang on later in a few places. This is a separate species from common ragwort mentioned above: originally from the slopes of Mount Etna, it escaped in the 19th century from the botanical garden in Oxford and found clinker on railway lines a perfect home. Just to confuse matters, later in the month common ragwort may also be seen on tracksides. Other orange flowers on railway lines in June include hawksbeards - most likely smooth and beaked hawksbeard, though exact identification tends to be impossible from passing trains.

Also found on the sides of railway lines early in the month (as well as growing out of garden walls) is red valerian or its white variant. Tracksides are also a typical habitat for rosebay willowherb to appear in at the end of June.

Woodland

While the big floral displays of early spring are long gone in woodland, there are still some flowers to be seen. In the first half sanicle is still in flower as well as the occasional pignut. Other plants you might see in the same habitat include yellow pimpernel and creeping jenny, both ground creepers with yellow flowers, and small balsam, a large leafy plant with small yellow flowers.

Cuckoo pint - whose leaves were such a common sight on woodland floors in late winter and early spring, have by now produced their strange green berry seedheads. Towards the end of the month you may start to see enchanter's nightshade, a common woodland flower in July.

Garden escapees

In gardens (and as a crop on some farms) lavender flowers in about the second week. Feverfew with its daisy-like plants, also lurks near gardens, often at the bottom of a wall. The blue star-shaped flower tumbling down walls is trailing bellflower, and mexican fleabane (a type of daisy), ivy-leaved toadflax and yellow corydalis also grow out of the most unlikely cracks in stonework. Red valerian (and its white valerian variant) colonise garden walls.

Looking like the garden escapees they are, showy and aromatic clumps of dame's violet can sometimes be found in odd corners or on roadside verges in June, and the pretty upside-down purple flowers of columbine can still be seen early in the month. Other naturalised escapees include yellow loosestrife, which is usually the garden variant whorled loosestrife, with orange centres to its flowers, and the cheerful purple-pink flowers of goats rue. Very occasionally you still see some periwinkle flowers.

The tall attractive spikes of purple toadflax can be found right at the start of the month. The same is also true of yellowy-green flowered lady's mantle. Occasional Welsh or Atlantic poppies (the one yellow and the other orange-coloured) escape from gardens as well. Looking like a garden escapee but in fact a wild flower, stinking iris sometimes crops up in odd corners. Towards the end of the month broad-leaved everlasting pea and hollyhocks also appear.

Damp places

In wet meadows and on the edges of streams and ditches, the most attractive June flower is meadowsweet, which produces drifts of white flowers. Particularly at the start of the month you also see lots of the very poisonous hemlock water dropwort. Much rarer plants of damp places include common valerian (not to be confused with the red or white valerian found on railway lines or at the seaside), and common comfrey with cream or dull purple flowers and leaves that seem to creep down the stem: however look carefully, as the the non-native Russian comfrey, whose leaves partly creep down the stem, is much commoner and found in many more habitats.

In streams on chalk you can see water crowfoot growing - a pretty white flower with a yellow centre - and this is also a good month for water lilies - both yellow and white ones. Often seen on ornamental ponds but also sometimes in the wild, both need clean water, white needing even cleaner water than yellow. Early in June by ponds and in marshy places you see yellow flag iris. Much more rarely, water forget-me-not and water chickweed may be seen seen beside rivers.

Reeds are now at their full height, and bulrushes produce their distinctive blooms - the brown cylinder of the female flower and the fluffy beige male flower on top. Towards the very end of the month in earlier springs himalayan balsam may start to flower - very invasive (it can choke streams) it is nevertheless very popular with bumble bees.

Arable fields

Arable fields can look rather attractive in June, with the still green wheat rippling in hypnotic patterns in the breeze. Towards the end of the month barley, which is the earliest to ripen, may be turning gold.

On arable edges scented mayweed can be seen, which smells faintly of chamomile if you rub its flowers; it is almost impossible to distinguish from stinking chamomile, but the latter is fairly rare. Late in the month the larger flowered scentless mayweed may also appear - easy to identify as it has no aroma at all. The frizzy leaves and yellow heads of pineapple weed (like a daisy without its petals, which does actually smell of pineapple if rubbed) can look like one of these about to flower, but it is in fact a separate species and increasingly common on disturbed ground as the month goes on. Groundsel is also a possible weed in such locations. Both can also crop up in urban situations.

The edge of arable fields is also the place to see tiny white field pansies, the red flowers of scarlet pimpernel and - sadly much rarer - the delicate purple flowers of common fumitory and the delicate pink stars of field madder. Cut-leaved cranesbill is fond of crop edges too and you can find field speedwell here, distinguishable from the germander speedwell found in grassland by having one whitened petal. Shepherd's purse, with its distinctive heart-shaped seeds, can also be found as an arable weed.

Very rarely (and usually to the west of London, in Wiltshire or Oxfordshire) one can see the striking blue borage, which looks like an escaped garden flower. Less attractively prickly sow thistle can be an arable weed, while common orache and knotgrass (not yet flowering) colonise bare ground at field edges.

The most striking arable weed in June is undoubtedly the poppy, however. It can appear in ones or twos or can take over whole fields, but just where it does this is unpredictable from year to year. That being said the South Downs and the area around Luddesdown in Kent are usually good places to see them.

The oilseed rape fields that were such a sea of yellow flowers just a few weeks ago are now acres of green seeds, which can be starting to go brown at the month's end. Wild radish - identified by the particular bulbous shape of its petals, which can be white, yellowish or purple and are veined with delicate purple lines - can pop up in the middle of this crop, and on the edges of other arable fields. Very occasionally you see crops of flax or lucerne, or isolated plants that have seeded from them.

Traditionally haymeadows were cut in late June or early July and you may still see this happening. The hay is then gathered into circular bales as winter feed for cattle. Historically, sheep were then released into the fields to graze the remaining grass, but this is not so often done these days. And talking of sheep, by June those cute lambs of early spring are almost fully grown. They no longer look so adorable and are presumably not long for this world. During June (or even in late May) it is made even more obvious which ones are destined for the abattoir, since the ewes are shorn and the lambs are not.

More June pages:


© Peter Conway 2006-2018 • All Rights Reserved

No comments:

Post a Comment